LOUISVILLE- Pegasus Institute says Kentucky's pretrial system is upside down.
"In 2016, we had 44,000 non sexual, non-violent inmates who were assessed as low or moderate risk to our risk assessment tools, who remained in jail for the duration or entirety of their pretrial period simply because they couldn't afford their bond," said Josh Crawford, Director of Criminal Justice Policy, Pegasus Institute. "That same year, we had almost 1,000 instances where violent or sexual offenders were assessed a monetary bond, posted that bond, and got out."
Crawford says this system means the ability to pay plays an out sized role in the pretrial system.
Crawford also cites instances where non-violent offenders pay a higher bond than a violent offender in part due to the variances in jurisdictions across the state. Meaning someone in jail for public intoxication could have the same price bail as someone in jail for homicide.
Jails in Kentucky are overcrowded, in part due to the flawed pretrial system in Kentucky, Crawford says. While overcrowding in jails is unsafe for inmates and workers, it's also a financial burden on the counties.
"There is a huge financial cost to house these individuals ahead of trial, and it's a financial cost we are willing to pay for murderers, and rapists, and armed robbers, and the kinds of folks we believe are a threat to public safety," Crawford says. "The question is are there folks we are paying the cost for that we don't need to?"
Pegasus Institute is supporting House Bill 94 filed by Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, which would change the pretrial system in various ways.
"It puts ability to pay back in line with the other factors that are to be considered by a judge when setting a bond," Crawford said.
This legislation would not remove a cash bond system entirely, a judge would still be able to impose a cash bond an person if needed to ensure they attend their court hearing.
"What they won't be able to do is require one that's prohibitive. That results in the detention of that individual," Crawford explains.
The judge would have three options, one is to reduce the bond to something the defendant would be able to afford. The second option, would allow the judge to not impose a monetary bond, but rather impose other guidelines, such as GPS monitoring, drug testing, or other restrictions. Finally, a judge could do a detention hearing, if he's worried the defendant may be a flight risk. This would allow the prosecutor and defense attorney and judge to make a determination.
Changing the bail system in Kentucky is something that has received bipartisan support, as overall criminal justice reform. During the 2018 General Assembly session a comprehensive criminal justice reform package failed to receive a vote after many were hesitant that it went too far. Crawford thinks making money less of an issue in pretrial proceedings could be passed in 2019.
"I'm someone who generally believes that criminal justice works," he said. "I think that's how most people think of the system, it's got problems, it's got things we need to fix, but we need to take a measured and public safety approach to each one of those things. And bail is our first bite of the apple. There are other things we need to do to the criminal justice system, but we should do it incrementally, we shouldn't take one swing for the fences."